Mason, Mich., is used to snow. On average, 4 feet falls every winter. This winter, however, was far from average.
- In November 2013 strong winds damaged trees, complicating the department’s established winterization procedures.
- In December an ice storm knocked out electricity to much of the city.
- In January the polar vortex drove the frost line below 42 inches. Waterlines broke by the dozens and individual water leads within the city froze.
- In February, temperatures rose. Thawing broke more waterlines and melted snow, flooding streets and straining the wastewater treatment plant.
- In March, more flooding.
Like many departments nationwide, the usual equipment and supplies weren’t enough. “We had to purchase additional salt, sand and gravel, and fuel,” says Ingrid Nova, executive assistant to the city administrator.
The 18 public works employees who serve the 5-square-mile community worked overtime to keep the city up and running for 10,000 residents, an airport, a public bus route to the state capitol of Lansing 15 miles north, and businesses, including the world’s largest manufacturer of foam cups and containers.
“Working on numerous water breaks with wind chills down to minus 30 degrees F, our crews had to find a way to break into valve boxes with jackhammers and keep the Vactor vacuum truck from freezing,” says Nova. “Sometimes they were knee-deep in water in the middle of the street.”